Project USA examines the coming debate on guest workers in a missive entitled Guest Worker Program Looming.
When Congress convenes in January it is almost certain that legislators will finally have to address America's fiercely criticized immigration policies.
Clearly, the status quo is untenable. More than 11 million foreign nationals now reside with impunity illegally in the United States. Hundreds of foreigners die on our southern border every year attempting an illegal crossing. Armed citizen militia movements are forming to enforce immigration law. And, waiting in the wings, the nearly 5 billion who live in countries poorer than Mexico present an enormous political and security challenge. Across the political spectrum, consensus demands something be done.
It is very likely that the Congressional response to the political demand will be a guest worker program. Many policy-makers (and opinion leaders) believe that a guest worker program is the best way to balance political realities with the economic interests of those who profit by cheap foreign labor.
Business leaders will oppose any aspect of a guest-worker program that might drive up labor costs, but will ultimately support the idea, taking comfort in the fact that once a market-driven immigration policy has been institutionalized, it will thereafter be relatively easy to increase periodically the size of the guest worker program in order to meet future business "needs."
However, ethnic-identity pressure groups see a guest worker program as a backdoor way to import more of "their people," and will push very hard to make sure any guest worker program includes eventual permanent residence for the workers.
Permanent status must be resisted at all costs. The U.S. population is already set to double within the lifetimes of today's children thanks to our profligate immigration policies. We certainly don't need to be importing permanent workers on top of the already staggering numbers. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration and many in Congress -- primarily Democrats -- will be tempted to back a permanent status component in a guest worker program for ethnically calculated political reasons.
It would be good, of course, if there were no guest worker program at all; in a perfect world, the United States would simply enforce existing immigration law, reduce legal immigration to sustainable levels, and reassess immigration policy in light of the long-term consequences for all, rather than the short-term economic benefits for a few.
However, these policies are still some way off, and immigration moderates should recognize that, unless there is another 9/11, a guest worker program is going to be introduced in the next Congress (at least 2 are already being written). Furthermore, some kind of program will very likely pass. So, the question for immigration realists is not whether to support guest worker programs, the question is how to ensure that the new program is an improvement over the status quo, rather than a deterioration of it.
In July 2001, ProjectUSA published a list of conditions that any guest worker plan must include if it is to be fair, humane, workable, politically feasible, and an improvement over the status quo. It included:
=> Management. A new tamper-proof identification card must be devised that includes a biometric identifier, and an easily accessible national databank must be created through which employers could check the legal status of potential employees.
=> Enforcement. To ensure the integrity of the program, local law enforcement must be given the training and resources necessary to assist an overwhelmed INS (or its successor).
=> Time limits. Temporary foreign workers must be limited to a six-month stint, and then they must return to their homes and families for a period of at least six months in order to give someone else a chance to use the program.
=> Required savings. Twenty percent of the workers' salaries while they work in the United States must be set aside in a special account collectible only upon return to their country of citizenship.
=> Health care. U.S. employers who use temporary foreign workers must provide them with health insurance.
=> Anchor babies. The misinterpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment, which grants automatic citizenship to babies born in the United States to temporary workers, illegal aliens, and tourists, must not apply to guest workers (as it likewise does not apply to the children of foreign diplomats).
=> Proper sequence. In order to avoid encouraging and rewarding illegal immigration, the temporary foreign worker program must contain a start-up phase that would limit use of the program only to those illegal immigrants already in the country.
These reasonable conditions would enjoy widespread political support. Additional provisions could mandate that employers provide transportation to and from the home country, and that workers be unaccompanied by family members. Strict oversight could ensure workers were not being exploited or abused. And, in order to prevent the undercutting of American workers, wages could be tied to prevailing wages in other industries not using foreign labor.
As we wrote in the summer of 2001, "We can expect the ethnic identity and cheap labor special interest lobbies to fight this sensible, fair, and politically palatable solution. But if they do, they will only expose their motives as unrelated to humane solutions or the well-being of the American people."
One reason I like the set of conditions outlined above is because these conditions reduce the economic burden that foreign workers impose on American taxpayers. Illegal aliens end up using hospital emergency rooms and other taxpayer funded medical services for poor people. The requirement that guest workers have health insurance eliminates one very expensive burden that illegals currently impose on the American taxpayer. One big problem with illegal aliens is that employers use them in order to get cheaper labor for the employers. But then the rest of the legal taxpaying population has to pay for medical care, schooling, higher crime rates, more police and prisons, and in other ways. The employers who use illegals are sticking the rest of the population for these added costs. This is analogous to the external costs caused by pollution when the price of a product doesn't reflect the costs of the pollution generated when making it.
In order to make the guest worker program effective as a way to reduce the costs of foreign workers it would have to be combined with a much bigger effort to prevent illegals from entering the USA and to deport those who do make it in. I have previously suggested a way to round up most of the illegals who are already here. Combine that with a border barrier on the border with Mexico and better checking of those who enter thru legal border checkpoints and the number of illegals and the cost of foreign workers could be greatly reduced.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2002 December 16 01:00 PM Immigration Border Control|